Sunday, 30 May 2010

Papa Bear

When I was about, oh six or maybe even five years old, I remember standing on the ledged wall at the side of the playground with some friends, fingers hooked through the wire fence, telling them that "I have two dads. There's my biological dad [I learnt that big word very young], and there's my dad who brings me up."

My biological dad is a man named Dan Flowers. When I was in secondary school, Laurence Kavanagh (the boy I was madly infatuated by for about five years) joked that my real dad was Mike Flowers. If you've never heard of Mike Flowers, here is a (rather Christmassy) picture of him:

This picture makes it clear that Laurence was not complimenting me, because Mike Flowers has a basin haircut and is the epitomy of cheese.
Mike Flowers sang awful covers of songs like Oasis' Wonderwall (I am still haunted by the sound of him crooning away, "You're my wonderwall, da-na-na da-da") and Don't Cry for me Argentina. Hideous. Needless to say, being teased by Laurence for this was infuriating and led to me defending myself with that most adolescent of lines: "He's not my dad!"

Coincidentally, I realize in the telling of this story that those four words were almost exactly what I spat out when I was just a wee tot, to my second dad (aka Dad-who-brought-me-up, who is actually the man I call dad, and who is different to my step dad, which is the man my mum married when mum and dad had split up. Sadly, mum and step dad are no longer together).

My memory holds an image of mum and this man - who my brain computed was not my father and was a threat to me - kissing in the kitchen. I ran up to them, little balled up fists beating at his legs, lungs bellowing sound at their full capacity (which is piercingly, uncomfortably loud as we all know from hearing toddlers screaming in supermarket aisles and on buses and during weddings and at other important times when you want absolute silence).

You're not my real dad!

Five words, as cold and as cutting as ice.

The funny thing is, he really is my real dad, in every sense except the biological one.

My papa bear is so much a part of me that I can't imagine not knowing him. If he hadn’t brought me up, I’d be a very different person today. My childhood memories contain image after image of my daddy - driving one of his many cars, stopping at petrol stations and bringing back sweets, trips to Water Palace where we rode inflatable 'doughnuts' in the river rapids that circled the entire swimming complex. There were trips to theme parks and funfairs and the beach, holidays to international destinations. The first time I saw my dad cry. Dad leaving the house for what I knew would be the final time, a fatal blow to the fastly fading mirage of a happy family. His absence at my nativity when I had a solo song. His uncomfortable presence in a family therapy session while I was in rehab, a man in alien territory as I tried to provoke some kind of argument with him to get all the dark and unspoken family secrets out in the open.

His proud, proud face on my graduation day, as I awkwardly threw my academic cap into the air, the day when mum couldn't get herself together to come along. His proud, happy face as he married lovely Helen (pictured) and listened to me reading a poem to the congregation. His tears. His snoring! His mid-afternoon sleeps on the sofa. 

My dad, Steve Baker. Our relationship is not without its tensions, but over the last 8 years, since I got into recovery, I've come to see just how dearly he loves me and to remember, when I think he isn't supporting me in my dreams, that he really only wants the best for me. Dad sees my potential, more than I do sometimes. A couple of years ago, he told me that I ought to work for BBC Worldwide as a researcher. I was gobsmacked that he thought I was good enough to do something like that. I halfheartedly researched it, but didn't ever feel passionately enough about the news to pursue it, and I doubted my ability to even get an interview.

One of the ongoing frustrations in our relationship centres around my career. He has suggested many professions for me over the last few years, including lawyer, researcher and teacher. Dad is certain that I’d make a great teacher. It’s been an interesting journey through my early twenties, as I’ve contemplated law school (it’s just so not for me), have applied three or four times for my postgraduate teaching qualification, have worked for a corporate retailer, have quit that job and gone to live in a sustainable community in Big Sur, California, have worked in a tearoom, have taken a ten grand paycut to be a support worker for people with autism, and have now landed on my feet (yet again) as a School Adviser for a charity called v, co-ordinating volunteering opportunities for 14-16 year olds. When I told dad about the new job, I was aware of wanting to please him and elicit praise and words of pride from him, whilst simultaneously trying not to seek that and to be proud of myself, gve myself the love and acceptance and approval I think I need from him in order to feel okay about myself.

Time and experience have taught me that my relationship with my papa bear works best when I arrive in it as an adult, not a child trapped in a grown up’s body. For this reason, I’ve recently changed his name in my phone from ‘Papa Bear’ to ‘Dad’, but my fingers still keep searching for his number under ‘P’. Sometimes, I’m vulnerable, and a dad-shaped hug does comfort me and help me feel better. A few years ago, it was very hard to be vulnerable around dad, because he just couldn’t respond in the way I yearned for – emotional availability isn’t one of his strong points. I think that over time though, he’s softened and opened, and connecting with him from my heart has become easier. It’s vital though that I remember that my life belongs to me. Dad doesn’t try to control my choices, but he does occasionally disapprove, and overtly so. Last year, he asked me when I was going to “stop pissing around” and get my life together. Weirdly, when I was in California just a few weeks previously, he’d said that my being out there was “a fabulous opportunity”, which shocked me into silence. I couldn’t actually believe what I was hearing, and soon enough, I got the conflicting evidence that I was really looking for as my dad disapproved of my choices once again.

The best solution for this is for me to stay in my power. The second I start trying to get him to agree with what I’m doing so that I can feel reassured, I’ve entered a minefield, and the only way out is to love myself, to forgive my dad, to forgive myself, to remember the truth.

The truth is that I am innocent. When I was a Christian, a friend once told me that “Nothing you do can make God love you more, and nothing you do can make Him love you less”. I think that is a beautiful sentiment, and one that is helpful in relation to my approval seeking from dad.

The truth is that I am safe and loved. Nige witnesses and supports me in remembering this time and time again. I carry a deep seated belief that I am unloveable and that I am not safe. When I encounter conflict in a relationship, particularly with my partner or a parent, the ground feels shaky underneath my feet, and my world feels as flimsy as a fallen autumn leaf, ready to be crushed in a whim of carelessness.

The truth is that I am enough. Human being, not human doing.

Remembering the truth helps me to see my dad for who he really is, too, rather than projecting my illusions onto him.

Papa Bear’s done some really cool stuff in his life. He learned how to fly planes a few years ago, and bought half a plane, and flew the whole plane (because he’d borrowed the other half from the man who owned that bit of it) to Morrocco. My dad flew from London to Morocco!

Dad works in the electronics industry. When I was about 13 or 14 years old, dad and I were watching Top of the Pops and I was worshipping some pop star or other on there, when dad conversationally pointed out that the microphones the presenters were using – gold, cordless – were his. His! As in, he designed them. (He never could get me free Take That concert tickets though.)

I recently discovered from my grandpa’s second wife, Julie, that my dad also invented the first baby monitor and sold the patent to it for £150. Holy moley.

 The stuff I love the most about my dad though isn’t what he’s achieved, incredible though these achievements are (and I’ve only listed a couple. At the moment he’s studying for a MBA, for example).

I love my dad’s dancing. It’s completely uncoordinated, completely out of time, all arms doing a choo-choo train movement and legs jigging up and down awkwardly, and it never ceases to make me crack up in hysterics.

I love the way he comes home from work and puts on his pajama bottoms but leaves his shirt on. Hawaiian patterned pjs with a shirt is a top combination.

I love the way he says ‘top bananas’ and the way he calls me ‘Tellie’ and the way he puts a posh voice on when meeting somebody for the first time or speaking on the phone.

I love dad’s guitar playing. When I was younger he used to play ‘Four legged friend’ for me and my sisters, and we’d fall about laughing. Daisy and I even wrote a song in tribute to Four Legged Friend, which went like this, “The dishwasher is my friend, the dishwasher is my friend, he’ll be with me till the end, ‘cos the dishwasher is my friend”. I’ve never told anyone that.

When I was younger than that, I’d try to tell my dad about my day and he’d be playing his guitar, staring blankly at the telly, and I’d feel so invisible and worthless. Nowadays, I see my dad as a human being and I get it – it’s just who he is. It didn’t mean that he didn’t love me, or that I am worthless.

Top of the list has to be my dad’s singing. It’s simply awful! (But not in a Mike Flowers way). Dad sings first thing in the morning, and converts lyrics from love songs so that he’s warbling to himself rather than to his beloved. How romantic for his lovely wife! For example, he’d sing, “I can’t live, if living is without meeeeeeeeeeeeeeee”. He does this religiously. I like it when he sings because singing = happy, and I love to think of my dad as being happy.

He also loves joking around. When Austin Powers came out at the cinema, dad took on the persona of  Dr. Evil, and it's never quite left since then. You can see on his face when he's got an evil plot in mind, as is clear from this picture of him teasing my sister Daisy. 

Because of the type of person my dad is, I don’t know that he’ll ever be able to fully receive my heartfelt words of gratitude. Perhaps he does. Perhaps when he reads the birthday cards I send him, the words I write journey straight to the centre of his being and rest there, speaking to the little boy who lives inside him. I know without a shadow of a doubt that papa bear loves me, that I am his daughter, that his love for me doesn’t see the lack of Baker genes in me.

 My landlord perhaps summed it up best when, upon meeting my dad the other week, he said to me, “Cor Ellie, you’re so like your dad, aren’t you?!” My relationship with dad provides a lot of evidence to the nature/nurture question. I am Steve Baker’s daughter through and through, and hopefully some of my free-spirited “hippy”-ness rubs off on him and reminds him that all you really need in this world is love. In turn, he reminds me that it’s also okay to drive a Maserati if you’re willing to do the work to get one.

Until next time…. xxx

Friday, 14 May 2010


I love to dance. I'm not talking about the kind of dancing you see in a nightclub on Saturday night, that hip wiggling, cocktail nursing, bump 'n' grind with another girl so some guys look you up and down kind of dancing. That's just not me. My kind of dancing looks a little bit like this:

and sometimes, a bit like this:

and sometimes, a little bit like this:

That's the kind of dancing I love!

It's the kind that sets me free, that leaves me doubled over in fits of laughter, that takes me deep inside until I touch innocence and shape it with my bare hands. It's the kind of dancing that I spent two beautiful days doing a few weeks ago with forty or so women, during which time I listened intently to my heart and my body; during which time I communed with God, tears of joy streaming down my face, rivulets of purity as I released eons of fear and self-hate.

The dance I dance is in the beat of my feet, the wave of my spine, the swoosh of my hands as I scoop and tinkle and thud and pulse my way back into my body, homeward bound from the moment I enter movement. I dance so that I might live, and I live from dance to dance. It's also quite common to see me talk about the dance, but not actually dance it when it gets to Tuesday night, or Thursday. Instead, I am fatigued, heavy, worn out from hours at a desk hunched over a keyboard, and I condemn myself for saying that I'll dance and then not doing it.

Tonight was one of those nights, and tonight, I am changing the record. It's really, completely okay. With that permission and acceptance comes freedom.

On July 2nd, I am embarking on a four day dancing journey, a pilgrimage of sorts. I am privileged to be participating in the School of Movement Medicine's Long Dance ceremony this year:

The Long Dance ceremony is a way to join in deep community to dance, sing and pray together for all our relations. It will happen in a large marquee at the edge of the ancient Somerset levels, close to the Earth Spirit Centre in Glastonbury. The ceremony provides a profoundly healing, catalytic and magical space where each individual is encouraged to find their own unique way of expressing their dreams and love for life through the dance.
It’s an opportunity to spend some time remembering that our own personal wellbeing is connected to the wellbeing of the planet, and to dedicate our dance to all our relations, past, present and future. The deeper we dance, the more we directly experience the reality of the interconnected nature of all life. This recognition is not just a blissful experience. It’s a remembering of our responsibility to honour and protect the sanctity of life, each in our own way.

Participants are asked to wear white clothes for the duration of the ceremony, and to raise a minimum of £200 for either the chosen charity, Survival International, or for a charity of your choice.

I have been sitting with this for quite some time, and have not raised a penny yet! Whilst I admire Survival International, I knew immediately that this was not who I wanted to raise money for. My heart said, quite simply, "No". And I listened. And I listened.

And this is what I heard:
Raise the money for the East Lancashire Hospice

The hospice is the place where Jim Atkinson, Nige's beloved and sorely missed dad, spent his last days in December of last year.

The people working at the hospice treated Jim and all the people there with dignity and respect. They have big, open hearts. I saw this on the day that Nige and I visited there to thank the staff for the love and care they gave to Jim.

I have asked myself why I want to raise money for the hospice. It wasn't my dad. Am I doing it to please Nige? Is it from a misplaced sense of guilt?

And my heart kept replying, "the hospice. The hospice. The hospice". 

And so I will not only raise money (hopefully more than £200, with your help!), but I have decided to dance for 48 hours in honour of Jim Atkinson; in honour of Jenny Atkinson, Nige's mum, who since his passing, has been constantly stepping out of her comfort zone and out into the world, suddenly without the man she spent 44 years of her life alongside and who now shares her bed with pillows and teddies instead of her soul mate; and in honour of Nige, my best friend, my soul mate, and a shining star in my life.

I can't do this dance alone. I will need nourishment for my body throughout, especially as we're only going to be stopping for three hours' sleep; I will need proper dancing shoes, which I do not yet own; I will need white clothes; I will need connection and encouragement from fellow dancers; and I will need your help.

I know that we are all faced with a barrage of requests for sponsorship every day, in the street, online, in our workplaces. And here I am, just another person asking you to 'dig deep' and give. Perhaps it doesn't have to be so deep. Perhaps it's swapping your daily Starbucks for a homemade coffee, and donating the £2.

If you have the means and the willingness to give 'more', that's wonderful. I want you to know that whatever you give, I will be so incredibly grateful. And I know that the hospice will be, too.

So tune in, and listen to your heart, and see if it has anything to say. Who knows, perhaps it might even have a dance all of its own that only you can dance.

Thank you.
Thank you.
Thank you.


To give, please see my Justgiving page or email me on

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Ego bust

First things first, as they say in Alcoholics Anonymous. It's time for a spot of honesty.

I love writing. I love words, and I love putting words together into sentences, paragraphs, or even as standalone monuments to the power of sound.


And yet, I do not live free. Like everyone else on the planet, I have an ego, and much like everyone else's (from what I've seen), my ego tells me outright lies and spins them as webs of truth. And I listen. I listen until I remember to laugh, usually until I am so much discomfort that I can't carry on. A few years ago, that discomfort was utterly debilitating. It was so intense that I had to do something, anything, to change how I was feeling. Nowadays, my life looks very different. I've come a long way. I'm proud of myself, and I still end up like a pretzel, tied up in knots around myself, completely confused and quite often "offended" (just ask Nige, poor guy).

My ego has been telling me that my blog is wrong. I don't write beautifully. I go on too long. I am failing. I am a burden.

These are the things I have believed about myself for my whole life, and they are not true! I know they're not true, and I have not just a shed but a busload of evidence that says otherwise. And yet the lies they keep on coming, more ghostly perhaps than they used to be, but just as haunting as ever.

Listening to these thoughts has prevented me from writing about a really important ceremony which is coming up in my life. I am therefore going to publish this now, and write a separate post which I will publish tomorrow. I am going to write what is in my heart. I give myself permission. This is what I am doing right now, and it feels good. It feels.... free! And I may write it a hundred, a thousand times over. Every time I choose love over fear, I will celebrate, because that singular choice is the most important one I will ever make, and indeed, A Course in Miracles says, the only real choice that ever exists.

There is no order of difficulty in miracles.
No one can fail who seeks to reach the truth.

These words are a comfort to my soul. When I read them, or think of them, it's like every part of my body exhales, every cell relaxes, and I rest a moment, completely at peace. I know I have heard God speak to me, and His word is always, always Love.

Thank you and goodnight x

Monday, 10 May 2010

Father and Son

Tonight my heart was wrenched open. I found myself unable to hold it together as I sat on my floor with my laptop on the bed, reading one of the most moving and beautiful posts I've ever read. Tears streamed out of me and my chest and throat did that sore, hurty thing that they do when I'm really upset.

Reading this post was probably the best and most heartfelt part of my day. Reading it helped me land in myself again and feel fully human.

Please, give yourself a few minutes, and read this blog:

Father and Son blog by Nige

I have nothing more to say other than that this blog post is dedicated to Jim and Nigel Atkinson.

Elloa xx

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

A letter for Little Elloa - In My Daughter's Eyes project

Dear Little Elloa,

You are twelve years old and you think there is something awfully wrong with you. You hate your smile, your body, and you wish you were like Poppy. You feel so unhappy and you carry so much shame. It is so scary for you to go home after school, not knowing what you'll find when you walk in the door - Mama Jekyll or Monster Hyde. You desperately want to be liked by your classmates, and you carry so many secrets and guilt and fear. You feel so alone.

I want you to know that you are not alone. In all of those moments when you feel so lost, misunderstood, and lonely, I want you to know that I am there with you, and that my love for you is so deep and wide and unchanging, and that nothing can threaten it. Each experience you are going through now will become part of the beautiful tapestry of your life, and one day you will grow up to become a gentle, loving, creative woman who dances and is in love and travels the world and knows God.

I want you to know that I see you. You are not invisible. You are not second best. You are beautiful, precious, seeninnocent, and utterly lovable. It is so hard for you to see right now, but everything you're going through is happening for a reason and one day you will see it differently.

You are beautiful, little Elloa. So much of the pain you carry doesn't belong to you, and yet for some reason it is with you right now. I want you to know that one day you will be free of it. You will have the opportunity to give it back to the people whose pain it is, to see the magnitude of the generational pain and to be a healer. You will come to understand your life from a place of Love, and you will not regret the things that feel so hurtful and so shameful right now.

You will have the opportunity to be angry, to scream the place down, to thump your fists on the ground and crumble in a heap in His arms. And it is completely okay. It's all completely and utterly okay. You will remember the Truth, and you will come to understand that all these things you believe about yourself are simply not true.

There is simply no truth in your greatest fears about who you are. The truth waits, undamaged and unchanged, for you to turn inward and accept it. A quiet, assured voice whispers gently to you, through the things you love, reminding you of who you really are, and watching over you when you forget. This is why you are safe, little Elloa. This is why I can promise you that everything will be okay. Some days the pain will be unbearable, and some days you will believe that you truly hate who you are. You will not understand how you came to be where you are, but you will find hope, and then you will nourish the hope you have found.

The things in your life that you love, too, little Elloa, are so important! Take joy in them, and let them comfort you. It is safe for you to be who you are and to like what you like. Sing your Take That songs at the top of your lungs! The world needs to hear the joy that they bring to you. There are people in the world who will delight in sharing all this with you one day - friends, sisters, even a beautiful man! You don't need to pretend to be somebody you're not, and it's okay to experiment, too. Read your books, write your diaries, audition for plays and sing your heart out. You can sing you know, Elloa. Your voice is lovely and you sing with sincerity and heart.

And your smile... your smile was given you to share with the world. It doesn't look like anyone else's smile, and that's exactly the point. God wasn't mistaken when He created you, little Elloa. You're not supposed to look like Kristy, or Oonagh, or Poppy, or any of those girls. You're supposed to look like you. You really do shine, and you really are beautiful, and you really are enough. These tiny, faint whispers you hear are telling you the truth. I know that you will have an ongoing life lesson around women, and that that is part of the reason you're here, but if I can say anything to you, it would be this:
Please, little Elloa, when you look in the mirror,
Say "I am beautiful and lovely and free to be me,
Just the way I am."

However hard it might become in the next weeks and months and years... when the sadness you feel engulfs you like a tidal wave... when the only outlet for your pain is in pain itself... when all feels lost... I will be there, a step ahead and right beside you, within and all around, gently guiding you towards the truth, gently showing you the beauty that is yours, gently loving you when you cannot love yourself.

So follow your heart, and turn to God, and as much as you can Elloa, trust yourself and learn the lesson that nobody can give you your worth. It is yours already. It is yours to claim.

I love you now and forever.

Elloa xx

I wrote this to myself one morning after an awkward conversation with Nige on the phone. Nothing actually happened, but my phone kept cutting out, and for those minutes while we conversed, I just felt.. wrong somehow. I was ill at ease, and I suspected there was something wrong with me, that I'd said the wrong thing, in the wrong tone of voice, and that things were somehow not okay anymore.

I logged on and read Holly Renee's blog, discovering In My Daughter's Eyes, a project with which I strongly resonate. I knew that my 12 year old self badly wanted to have a letter be written to her. I wrote, and I cried. I saw myself, in 1995, shy and scared... and innocent.

And now? And now I can see again, and I remember that I'm safe, I'm loved, and that I am whole and complete.

If you are a woman, or if there is a woman in your life who is so lovely but who perhaps doesn't quite see herself the way you see her... point her in the direction of Pink Moss. Or, just write your 12 year-old self a letter. You never know, there may be something that she really needs to hear that only you can say to her.